Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Article # 1: Rural Church Growth

A Church is Mission Driven: Understanding the Purpose of Your Church

Matthew 28:18-20,
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This series of articles is committed to solving the problems facing rural churches and Kingdom growth. The first problem facing rural church is a loss of Kingdom focus. Most rural churches have existed in their communities for several decades. There is a large gap between those who planted the church and their passion to win their community to Christ and those in the church who just want to keep the doors open another week.

The mission of any church is the Great Commission given by Jesus Christ and it is to be lived out according to the example given by the early church in Acts 2:42-47. Each believer has been given the charge by Christ to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them obedience to God’s Word. This is God’s will for your life and for your church.

The problem is most rural churches no longer have the passion or the vision to fulfill this command of Christ. For most rural churches their passion isn’t for making disciples of Christ, but disciples of their church. Most of the gages of spiritual maturity in rural churches are based on what will keep the church structure going. An example of this is how rural churches measure a person’s maturity by their church attendance. The problem of this is church attendance isn’t part of the great commission.

My point is the mission of the church isn’t survival, but revival. The mission of the church isn’t to maintain people, but to make disciples. The mission isn’t to please the people who control the money, but to please Christ who controls the Kingdom. The mission isn’t to make people that are bound for heaven comfortable and lazy, but to make people bound for hell into disciples that are passionate for living for Christ. The same reason God the Father sent Christ, He sends us. It is all about bringing the lost into Christ-likeness. Church survival is important, but understand this truth, “As we seek to build God’s Kingdom through making disciples, God will grow our individual churches. The reason churches are dying is we are church focused, not Kingdom focus, and therefore the goal becomes keeping Christians comfortable.”

The ways in which rural churches have tried to reach those without Christ have been disastrous. The reason is because most rural churches are stuck in programing ruts. Instead of working smarter, they only work harder, doing the things that have no impact on the lives of people without Christ. Rural church need to examine everything they do and see if it helps in making disciples. Rural churches must examine everything because Sunday School, the way you worship, and the way your church plans events may not help your church in making disciples. Remember the mission isn’t about having Sunday School and three worship services a week. The mission is about making disciples.

Will rural churches work smarter to carry out their mission to make disciples? Will they start going after those without Christ instead of expecting those without Christ to come to them? Only one agenda can have priority. Make the commission of Christ the mission of your church and your life.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Al Mohler and Richard Land Mix it Up

I came across this link while reading through the Baptist Press website. Here is the link to the actual article. Al Mohler and Richard Land are amongst a number of panelists who are engaging in an online religious dialogue in conjunction with Newsweek and The Washington Post. There are some amazing insights here for us as a denomination through the comment strings. Check it out.

On Faith

It makes some neat reading.

Don't forget to continue reading the ongoing series from OKPreacher and Professor X below!!!!!!

Deconstructing Postmodern Discipleship - The Evangelism Shift

Postmodern Discipleship begins with a shift in evangelistic method. Ultimately, there are two distinct methods of evangelism. These methods are Deductive and Inductive.

(The bulk of this information is found in the work of Delos Miles who was the Professor of Evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have focused in on a book called The Gospel for the New Millenium, which is comprised of essays written in honor of Dr. Miles.)

Deductive Evangelism
Deductive evangelism is defined in terms of the three P's of the church growth movement. These three P's are proclamation, persuasion, and presence. Deductive evangelism practices the P's precisely in that order. It's primary emphasis is the proclamation of the gospel with the purpose of persuading the hearer to accept the terms of the gospel. It maintains less emphasis on the believer living out his faith in front of the non-believer.

Some key words that would be associated with this style are rational, lips, canned, monological, traditional, and religious. I would dare say that many of our churches are geared this way. The calling is for the individual congregational members to invite the people they come in contact with to come to church on Sunday and hear a gospel message. This approach might be modified to challenge a believer to get to know the person first and practice a little bit of presence first, and then invite them to church to hear the message. You might think of Pentecost as a biblical example of this approach to evangelism.

Inductive Evangelism
In contrast to deductive evangelism, the inductive approach places primary importance on presence, then persuasion, and finally proclamation. Establishing credibility with the unbeliever is of utmost importance in inductive evangelism. One must show the relevance of the gospel to the unbeliever's life by living faith out loud in front of them. Much of the persuasion is accomplished before the gospel is ever proclaimed to that person.

Some key words for this approach are lifestyle, relational, dialogical, friendship, conversational, and spontaneous. This approach is dramatically seen in the current emerging church movement, Brian McLaren, Rick Warren at Saddleback, and Bill Hybels' contagious Christianity motif. This style challenges the individual to live out the gospel in the midst of a lost world and walk alongside of the unbeliever guiding them to faith after gaining their trust. This approach is also often accused of watering down the gospel because of it shying away from a strong confrontational method. Think of the time Paul spent in cities, or even Prsicila and Aquila and their approach. I would speculate that much of our modern missions is based on an inductive approach to evangelism.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23
This means I am not bound to obey people just because they pay me, yet I have become a servant of everyone so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with the Jews, I become one of them so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with those who follow the Jewish laws, I do the same, even though I am not subject to the law, so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with the Gentiles who do not have the Jewish law, I fit in with them as much as I can. In this way, I gain their confidence and bring them to Christ. But I do not discard the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are oppressed, I share their oppression so that I might bring them to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring them to Christ. I do all this to spread the Good News, and in doing so I enjoy its blessings.

It is easy to see above that Paul recognized distinct methods in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel remained the same no matter what, the delivery was fluid. Likewise, we should not champion one method over the other, and especially not decry the evils of one's use of either. The goal is to share the gospel, and reach people for Christ. Both methods are valid and should be employed in various forms.

My point in bringing out this distinction is that a fundamental shift has occurred between a Modernist approach to the evangelism and a Post-modernist approach. This shift is from deductive to inductive. The post-modern Gen X/Bridger is more interested in walking alongside someone to faith than being shouted at from a pulpit. Recognizing this shift and accepting it is paramount to beginning to develop a post-modern ethos of discipleship. This shift carries methodological applications throughout our Christian lives. Think about educational development. If learning is more inductive now, why are so many classes in seminary strictly lecture style? Why are so many Sunday mornings centered on a 30 - 40 minute sermon? Why are we so afraid of the question "why"?

A key point to make in this evangelistic shift is that a form of discipleship often occurs before conversion ever takes place. Now, before you get all tied up and talk about how spiritual maturity cannot take place in a non-believer close your mouth and think about it. Basically, pull your head out. The shift to inductive evangelism allows the believer to instill basic spiritual principles into the potential convert. Essentially, it allows a foundation to be built before the building is ever considered. What a concept!!!!!! The sad truth is that the person who comes to faith in Christ through proper inductive evangelism is years ahead of the other at conversion in regards to spiritual maturity. The inductive approach in post-modern conversation is key to laying the groundwork for continued spiritual growth once there is conversion. This shift signals to us that a new approach to discipleship must take place to foster the continued growth of the postmodern believer. It must incorporate the key values and concepts that define the postmodern and identify him. The core will never change, but the method of developing that core must make cultural shifts amongst believers.

Previous Posts can be found below:


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Introduction - Rural Church Growth

We Want To Grow” (A series on the growth potential of rural Baptist churches.)

Every pastor search committee I have interviewed with told me, “We want to grow and we are ready under the right pastor to make the changes necessary to grow.” I would get excited about what I though was growth potential. I would share with the committee that I was interested in being their pastor. Over the years I have realized that most pastor search committees are lying. Most don’t realize they are lying, they think they are telling the truth, but just saying you want to grow doesn’t make it true. My purpose in this series of articles is to share what steps must be taken for a rural Baptist church to grow. I want to help churches that are considering change, leaders of rural churches that are desperate for change, and ministers that may feel called to a rural church and think they are going to be leading change. Issues that I’m going to cover are:

1. A Church Is Mission Driven – Understanding the purpose of your church
2. Change Brings Death – Understanding Life-cycles.
3. You reach your culture – Understanding your church and your community.
4. Just Be Honest – Understanding your commitment level for change.
5. You Win When You Lose – Understanding the risk and sacrifice involved in change
6. Grow Or Gone – Understanding yourself.

This will be an interesting journey and I hope this helps many of you. Plus Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Deconstructing Postmodern Discipleship - Prelude

No one would honestly disagree that we are standing at the greatest crisis phase the Kingdom of God has ever faced. The beginning of this series will deal spcifically with the problem we must come to terms with much much sooner than later. Postmodern thought is not everything it is made up and out to be. Most would identify the main characteristic of postmodernists as a lack of absolute truth. That is wrong. That is an extreme side of it. The problem is that the postmodern is often accused of this simply because he does not automatically accept one's belief as true without support or reason. Before we go too far let's look at some statistics that illuminate the postmodern drift we are dealing with.

2 Questions from Thom Rainer:

Do you know for certain when you die you will go to heaven?
Why should God let you into heaven?

Generational Reality:

Builders - Born before 1946 65% answered appropriately
Boomers - Born 1946 - 1964 35% answered appropriately
Gen X - Born 1965 - 1976 15% answered appropriately
Bridgers - Born 1977 - 1994 4% answered appropriately

William Barrett
The postmodern generation of Chrisitians is now 112 million and will double that in 12 years.

George Barna
The population of unchurched people in the USA has doubled in the decade from 1990-2001. After 9/11 attendance is less than half of what it was before 9/11.

Dawson McAllister
90% of kids active in high school youth groups will abandon church after their sophomore year of college.

Dr. Stanley Presser & Linda Stinson
Only 26% of Americans actually attend church.
Denominations claim that 40% attend church.

(On a side note here, if you agree with Billy Graham about the percentage of people in church who don't really know Christ then only about 10-13% or less really are believers. What that means to me and you in the SBC world is that out of the "16 million" people we "claim" are members of the denomination there are only about 1 million who might be actual authentic believers in Christ. That is a staggeringly scary reality of our faith.)

So, what is the problem? Is it postmodernism bent on seeking truth? Could it be its disdain for tradition? Is it postmodernism's fault at all? Postmodernism itself developed late in the 19th century, and early 20th. It did not receive its namesake and become truly recognized until the mid 1930's when it was called "postmodernism" in reference to a phase in the art world. It reached the end of its incubation period in the mid-1960's and has grown ever since. The point is this, postmodernism developed as a logical extension of modernistic thought, not as a rebellion against it. If man's ability to think is above all else, than why is one man's thought any better than another?

The most basic form of the issue facing us today is that the church is hemorraging people out of it. The church-goer demographic is radically shrinking for some reason. We must find the source and stop the deluge.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ignite Your Passion!

Ignite your passion by reading your Bible. I have been on a rewarding journey lately of reading through my Bible from cover to cover. In October, I got "The Message, Remix" Bible for my birthday. This bible is written in contemporary English. My daily readings have been awesome. I started with my own reading schedule of four chapters on weekdays and five chapters on weekends. With this reading schedule I will read through the Bible in less than a year. I want to encourage everyone to do whatever you have to do to ignite a passion within you for reading God's Word.

I know there is a lot of talk about what is needed for the church to grow and solutions to Baptist problems. I hope I don't sound naive when I say that Christians becoming committed to reading God's Word daily would make a difference. It doesn't matter the translation or even if you use a paraphrase Bible. Read and ignite your passion for God.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Great Quote

I have been reading a couple books lately. One of them is:

The Gospel for the New Millennium

And for those who don't like Amazon:

The Gospel for the New Millennium

Chapter 5 is by Alvin Reid and the title is: "Revival/Spiritual Awakening and Incarnational Evangelism." In this chapter on page 102 he points out the usual excuses that people don't witness. He then moves into the below quote:

The root cause lies in our misunderstanding in our day of the essential nature of the Christian faith. For some, Christianity is a simple system of dogma. Make no mistake: doctrine is critical, particularly in our pluralistic world which sees tolerance as a virtue and conviction as a vice. But an emphasis on doctrine apart from devotion to God leads to dead orthodoxy.

The emphasis on the final sentence is mine. I have tried to give a little context to the quote in order to capture what I think he is saying. I have often asked myself the question of which comes first? Or, which do I as a spiritual formation minister at a church teach first? Does spiritual discipline and right doctrine lead to devotion to God and spiritual growth? Or does pure enamored devotion to God lead to spiritual discipline and doctrinal aptitude? For many years I think we have ignored the slow death of our orthodox existence while attempting to purge our denomination of its less than stellar proponents. We forgot how to love God in our effort to not be charasmatically emotional. In my evangelistic endeavors I have yet to have an unbeliever question my doctrine before my character and integrity.